Monday, March 4, 2013

The Invisible Enemy

Dear Gary—
“The Age of the Virus has begun.” Sounds prophetic, and while the Doctor wins out at the end of The Invisible Enemy, I am a little afraid, Gary, that “contact has been made.”
Don’t get me wrong. I still love Doctor Who; I still love Tom Baker as the Doctor. The show is still entertaining and vital. But that is the problem with reaching a pinnacle as the Hinchcliffe/Holmes era did with The Talons of Weng-Chiang, all of the surrounding serials suffer in comparison.
Take Michael Sheard, for example. He does an excellent job portraying Lowe in The Invisible Enemy, but I can’t help but think of him as the much more richly textured character of Laurence Scarman in Pyramids of Mars.
OK. Time to move on. The Doctor, too, has moved on. He has abandoned the short-lived wood paneled and brown Sherlock Holmesian control room for the previous, more modish white and sci-fiish control room of old.
Leela: “We’ve never been in here before.”
Doctor: “You’ve never been in here before.”
Leela: “What is it?”
Doctor: “Number two control room; has been closed for redecoration. I don’t like the color.”
Leela: “White isn’t a color.”
Doctor: “That’s the trouble with computers: always think in black and white; no aquamarines, no blues, no imagination . . .”
But there is something comforting in going back to the old, the tried and true.
And that is what The Invisible Enemy gives us. The old; the tried and true; the sci-fi universe of Who vs. the literate, richly textured Who.
Contact has been made.
The Doctor and Leela and the TARDIS arrive in about the time of 5,000 AD, the time of Leela’s ancestors, “the year of the great breakout.” The year when Man, as the Doctor explains, “went leapfrogging across the solar system on their way to the stars.” (I’m going to leapfrog myself, here, Gary, and reminisce about The Waters of Mars, but past, present, future—time is relative.)
“Asteroid belt’s probably teeming with them now,” the Doctor continues. “New frontiersmen, pioneers waiting to spread across the galaxy like a tidal wave. Or a disease.”
The Age of the Virus.
“Why disease?” Leela asks the Doctor. “I thought you liked humanity.”
“Oh, I do, I do,” the Doctor replies. “Some of my best friends are humans. When they get together in great numbers, other life forms sometimes suffer.”
But as in any good old fashioned Doctor Who sci-fi story it is humanity that is in danger, and it is the Doctor who must save the day.
“Must have had a bot of a shik.”
A bot of a shik?—“rightly perfect, thank you.”
The Doctor might have to save the day, but he has to do it with a slightly addled brain; a brain that has been infected; a brain that has had “a bot of a shik.”
What better way for the Doctor to attack his infected brain than to enter it himself and do battle with the infection? Taking Leela along for good measure?
A fantastic voyage of an idea.
Leela: “I am a hunter.”
Doctor: “You are a savage.”
Leela: “Perhaps. I’m not ashamed of what I am.”
Leela is a hunter; a savage; she is not ashamed of who she is. “She’s all instinct and intuition.”It is this which saves the Doctor. It is this which saves humanity.
Leela has left behind the tea lessons and has once again donned her skins. Hunter; savage; all instinct and intuition. As such, the virus has rejected her (“Reject yourself!”). Instead, the virus, the Nucleus of the Swarm, has selected the Doctor as the perfect host and has nestled itself into his brain. Realizing that the Nucleus is feeding on his intelligence, the Doctor puts himself into a self-induced cataleptic trance, although he pops in and out of it as the plot dictates.
There are quite a lot of unanswered questions and suspensions of disbelief in The Invisible Enemy. For example, why would the infected Lowe take Leela and the Doctor to the Bi-Al Foundation for treatment? And once there, why does he leave the Doctor and Leela on their own? But like the Doctor popping in and out of his coma, it is all for the convenience of the plot.
There are some intriguing ideas in the plot, like the idea of an intelligent microorganism as a deadly threat to the galaxy, or the idea of the Doctor and Leela being cloned, miniaturized, and injected into the Doctor’s body. However these ideas are not fully fleshed out.
There are some nice moments with the clones and inside of the Doctor’s brain, but not enough. The whole of this seems rather rushed, taking place in only one of the four episodes. Yet, peculiarly, it takes entirely too much time. Supposedly the clones have all of ten, maybe eleven minutes of life. Most of this, I would think, would be eaten up before they even get to the injection, yet amazingly the Doctor strolling along to the TARDIS to retrieve his Relative Dimensional Stabilizer, hooking this RSD up in the lab, explaining what to do to Marius, the shrinking process, the scooping up and injection all must take place in less than a minute. Similarly, the shrinking and injecting of Lowe and his catching up to the Doctor and Leela must also be done at lightning speed. It is all rush, rush, lightning speed with the countdown ticking and ultimatums breathing down their necks, yet there is no sense of urgency on anyone’s part. These ten to eleven minutes must be transdimensionally relative; they’re longer on the inside than on the outside.
And then there is the microorganism, the virus, the Nucleus of the Swarm. This is an idea that would have been better if it were not fleshed out.
“The virus has a perfect right to exist as a virus, not as a giant storm threatening the entire Solar System.”
I’m sorry, Gary, but that giant storm is laughable not threatening. No one is hiding behind the couch on this one. Bug-eyed Doctor Who monsters are a dime a dozen and, given budgetary constraints, forgivable. But when they have to be wheeled along between two supporting cast members all excuses, all suspension of disbelief, all forgiveness is thrown out the window.
This is where Leela comes in. Leela the hunter; Leela the savage; Leela, all instinct and intuition.
Leela: “Doctor, why don’t we just blow up Titan? Nucleus, breeding tanks, everything?”
Doctor: “That’s you answer to everything, isn’t it? Knock it on the head.”
Leela: “Effective, isn’t it? Smash it once and for all. Well?”
Well . . . the Doctor doesn’t operate that way.
Doctor: “Shall we try using our intelligence?”
Leela: “Well, if you think that’s a good idea.”
Leela—instinct and intuition; knock it on the head. The Doctor—intellect; use one’s head.
The Doctor, using his head, has come up with an antidote for the virus based on the immunity factor found in Leela.  Armed with a batch of the antibodies, the Doctor is off to Titan to attack the Nucleus, now macro sized. Conveniently and carelessly, the Doctor drops the container and in the end he has to use Leela’s method—blow it up.
All very neat, but rather sloppy.
Doctor: “That was a good idea of mine, K9, to blow it up.”
K9: “Affirmative.”
Ah, yes. K9. If The Invisible Enemy is notable for anything it is for introducing K9. K9, the tin dog. Professor Marius’ personal data bank and best friend, but Marius is returning to Earth and asks the Doctor to look after him.
Leela is especially happy with the addition of K9. K9 does talk above her like the Doctor (“Can you explain simply?” “Negative.”), but he is handy to have around when something needs blasting or the enemy is advancing. K9 is just as comfortable knocking things on the head as he is using his head.
The Doctor and Leela have been joined by a tin dog and our three companions fly off in the new old control room. It was a bot of a shik, but contact has been made and a new era of Doctor Who begins.
I leave you with that, Gary. Something old is new again. Time is relative . . .

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